Parenting in the Digital Age

Article by: Bridgehaven Team

“Covenantal Parenting, Creational View of Technology, & Transformational Approach”

As we take a look today at some of the technology and social media used by our children, and consider how to shepherd them…it is important for us to examine the different components involved.

It is helpful for us to understand the actual social media applications…what they are and how they work…so that we have a general feel for the landscape.

Often times when it comes to issues that are close to our heart, we can often get distracted and lose focus of our role and responsibilities.

This is not to minimize the value of understanding the ins and outs of social media, but an opportunity for us to examine our part in the equation. Instead of focusing exclusively on fixing technological problems, we want to devote our efforts towards right relationship with our children, and understanding how to approach technology appropriately in light of that.

What I’d like to do in our time this morning is cover three points involved with parenting in the digital age…covenantal parenting…a creational view of technology…and a transformational approach to parenting technological issues.

I. Covenantal Parenting

In order for us to learn how to wisely approach parenting children in the digital age, we must first start by understanding our role as Christian parents.

Because of God’s work in Christ to redeem us, we have been forgiven of our sin and reconciled to God. God’s love for us is covenantal, meaning He promises in a legal agreement to be faithful in relationship with us. Our relationship with God is based on His own goodness…in Christ, not our performance, and through faith in Christ, we are united by the Spirit to right relationship with the Father. God is so kind to provide for us, what he indeed requires of us.

This is vital for us to understand, because it informs the way that we care for our children. In the same way that God relates to us, we are called to represent this same dynamic with our kids. This means that our parenting is called to be covenantal. We are to love our children sacrificially, even though they’ve done nothing to deserve it. In our covenantal parenting, we are modeling for our children, God’s love for His people.

So what does this love consist of…well, first off we are called to provide for our children’s basic needs and protect them from harm. These are basic, foundational building blocks for survival. But providing and protecting are only the beginning. Our role as parents is to introduce our kids to loving relationship. This involves two primary functions…time and communication. Covenantal parenting requires us to be intimately involved in our children’s lives by spending quality time with them. This sounds obvious, but unfortunately it is increasingly overlooked in our culture. Our society is more active than ever before….more options of things to do…more potential regarding telecommunications, and yet, we are disconnected, fragmented, and isolated from relationship. Only when we are intimately involved in a relationship, do we have the trust of another to speak into their life in meaningful ways. It provides safety to instruct and discipline. As the saying goes, ‘ Rules without relationship equals rebellion.’’ So it is crucial for us to be engaged with our kids relationally, so they trust our love and care for them, and can better understand the purpose of our instruction and discipline, which is designed to protect them and build them up. It is within the context of this sort of trusting relationship that we can begin to instruct our children fin the ways of the Lord, and equip them with a missional approach to life. As we help our children to see the purpose in their lives, our instruction, teaching, and discipline takes on more substance and meaning.

If only it were so simple right? The problem with parenting is that we are broken people trying to help broken children in a broken world. Due to sin, our own hearts’ strategy in reaching our children is often misdirected. And of course children’s response to our parenting has it own share of distortion. So, lets look at some of the main ways we get off course in parenting children. There are three extreme relational approaches, and two extreme motivational tactics.

The extreme relational approaches include absence, legalism, and false love. Absence is pretty obvious, when we do not spend time with our children. This includes abandonment, overworking, farming out raising our kids through activities, or allowing one parent to handle all of the child-related tasks. When we approach parenting from an absence, we are de-valuing our children by not investing our time in the relationship. The other extreme approach is false love. This is more subtle, because we may spend inordinate amounts of time with our children, and communicate in very affectionate ways. But false love is not about helping the child to grow into a godly adult, but using the child to fill some void in our own life. This approach enables children to sin, because we are scared to correct. It creates entitlement, where kids are spoiled and do not learn the value of work, and it functions with a peer dynamic. The opposite of this parenting approach is legalism, where we take a overly disciplinarian role. We over emphasize rules with a lack of sensitivity to the person. We focus on one-dimensional behavior change. The problem is…oftentimes this method is effective. We use either fear or pride or both to motive kids to act the way we would like them to behave, and then when we are no longer watching they go back to the desires of their own heart.

II. Creational View of Technology

Let’s shift gears and discuss technology in and of itself. God has created the world and all that is in it, and when he completed His work, he declared it is good. Later, Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:4-5

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

This concept that God designed creation and it is good is a vital starting point for us understanding the reality of our world. Often times we can view corrupted, fallen parts of culture as bad or evil in and of itself, which is untrue.

God has gifted humanity with the privilege of dominion over creation. In Genesis 1:28, God gives the cultural mandate, which Mark Dever describes as:

The cultural mandate is the command to exercise dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential. God calls all humans, as those made in his image, to fill the earth with his glory through creating what we commonly call culture.

One of the fruits of culture that has developed in the last century is digital technology. Our time today is focused specifically on telecommunication technology and social media. These innovations in technology are an example of man taking God’s good creation and crafting it in such a way as to help society flourish, and subsequently glorify God.

Because of this social media is not in and of itself bad or evil. It is important for us to distinguish this, as it determines how we diagnose the problem, and consequently how we develop a prognosis. Telecommunications when used to enhance the richness of relationships are a good thing. The problem is that fallen people utilize social media. It is their distorted view of technology, their misdirected desires, and their impure motives, which can potentially make technology and social media dangerous. Especially for our young ones, who are not necessarily mature enough to examine their own hearts or discern possible stumbling blocks.

With this in mind, there are a plethora of potential dangers involved in the use of social media, and particularly for vulnerable children. These include identity issues, approval issues, sexuality issues, alcohol and other drug issues, online pedophiles, and bullying. Each of these is a gigantic topic. Identity issues are how we understand ourselves. It’s helpful to consider meaning, worth, and security as the three components of identity. By design, we are made in the image of God, and so identified by Him. However, we are marred, and prone to defining ourselves by any number of things in creation. As Christians, we are all in the process of more rightly understanding our identity in Christ, but even more so for children. And so social media has incredible power in imaging potential identities for our children to play with like masks. False identities. The possibilities are endless.

The problem of approval is a form of identity issue that’s also deeply embedded in people, and especially in children. We all at some level desire to be loved and known by others, but when we elevate the affirmation of those around us above God, we engage in the idol of approval. We allow a specific person or people group to define us and again…provide us with meaning, worth, and security. This is incredibly volatile with children as the passionate desire to fit into a people group is strong, and social media provides the tools to facilitate a constant assessment and measurement of where you stand in relation to your peers.

Sexuality is also a process in rapid development for children, and needless to say technology provides infinite opportunity to not only explore one’s sexuality, but also to facilitate that exploration with others, and with some level of privacy.

Alcohol and other drugs are also more easily distributed with the onset of telecommunications. It is easier than ever for children to procure substances due to the technological ease of communicating.

Violence is another potential danger involved with parenting in the digital age. With the anonymity that social media provides, pedophiles can more easily access our children than ever before. Child predators utilize social networking to connect with kids, and lure them into vulnerable situations. Social media is also a venue for children on children violence. It provides a platform for bullying. The negative impact is rapidly disseminated amongst entire peer groups.

Are these issues new to children? No, but with the inception of social media, the speed and availability for these problems to spiral wildly out of control has increased immensely.

This morning (ironically) in Tony Reinke’s article, titled “Six Ways Your Phone Is Changing You” on Desiring God’s website, Dr. Douglas Groothius, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary listed six implications of concern:

Change 1: We are becoming like what we behold.

Change 2: We are ignoring our finiteness.

Change 3: We are multitasking what should be unitasked.

Change 4: We are forgetting the joy of embodiment.

Change 5: We are losing interest in the gathered church.

Change 6: We are growing careless with our words.

III. Transformational Approach to Parenting Technological Issues

I think it would be helpful for in attempting to address parenting in the digital age to first pause, and imagine where we are trying to go regardng the way we parent. What is it that we are trying to accomplish in the way we raise our children. What are the most important values we want to instill as parents? The Scriptures paint a broad picture for us in raising children, but it is vital for us to contemplate our hope for our children, and not a selfish hope, where they re-live our specific dreams of vocation, but a big picture hope.

One where are children are walking with the Lord, serving Him in whatever particular vocation they are uniquely gifted. That they would be rooted in faith, hope, and love…full of truth and grace. A picture of our children with integrity and faithfulness and purpose and peace and joy. A hope where they lovingly impact the people around them.

So often we settle for small picture of little hope. I just want them to be happy. I just want them to self-sufficient. I just want them to get through college and get a good job. We have set the bar too low. So consider this vivid hope, because in order to figure out how to navigate forward, we have to know where we are going. Once we know where we are going, we then need to evaluate where we are at currently, so we can begin to chart a course.

Only then when we know the departure and arrival sites can we develop a process-oriented method of parenting. One that has direction, but is also flexible. We can have structure, but not slip into legalism or behaviorism. We can engage relationally and love well, and yet be direct about what is true. Our consistency in modeling truth and grace is pivotal for setting the tone of our parenting culture.

At this point we can begin to assess where are the problematic areas unique to our children, and how does technology fit into their lives. What are their particular strengths, weaknesses, sin patterns, and struggles? How could technology be used to help them walk in the right direction towards that vivid picture of hope?

In addition to setting a clear picture of hope for our parenting, we can then begin to approach our children proactively, where we are applying the circumstances of the presence into the process geared towards the bigger picture. This empowers us to interact with our kids in such a way that anticipates struggles, and re-channels them into opportunities to grow.

The best defense is a good offense. If we approach parenting our children, we can cultivate a loving relationship. One composed of quality time and communication. When we are involved in the nuts and bolts of our children’s lives, they are more receptive to our instruction and discipline because they trust us. Also, as parents we more familiar with the intricacies of our children. We know them better. It is in this relationship that we can shepherd our children in such a way that we impact the trajectory of their lives by equipping and training to apply the Gospel to every aspect of their life. Obviously, this requires us to lives our lives oriented around Christ, so that we are consistent in practicing and modeling a life of faith and repentance, and particularly healthy and right usage of technology both individually and maritally. We must exemplify appropriate self-control with social media, so our children can see the good gifts of technology, and trust our warnings of its potential dangers.

So when things have crossed the line, and there are legitimate issues regarding children and technology. It is crucial for you to figure out creative ways to spend time together with your children. This provides a context for relationship, and obviously a platform to discuss problems. Far too often, we neglect the importance of setting when addressing important topics with our children. Time and place are important indeed.

When we are engaged consistently with our children by spending quality time together, it is important for us to ask good questions. This is essential for us in trying to understand our kids. How do they think? How are they motivated? What do they desire?  What is it they fear? We can only learn the ways of our children’s heart through asking questions, and not necessarily in an authoritarian way, but in the flow of relationship. It is important for us in learning our kid’s heart that we become attuned to how they are motivated volitionally. What is it they love? What do they want? As we become more adept in understanding the way our children are wired, we can begin to affirm the good parts, and challenge the bad parts. It is not enough for us to become our children’s peer, we are their elder. We are responsible for loving correction and discipline. This provides us opportunities to not only share the Gospel, but to lead in repentance, and to help our children see all of our need for a Savior. Our weaknesses and shortcomings…as well as our children’s…provide us with ripe opportunities to explain the Gospel to our children. When our children understand God’s love for them, they will better understand parameters for their protection based on their age and maturity. As parents we can wisely define clear boundaries that distinctively fit our particular children. We can assess what they are equipped to handle based on their unique situation, and find ways to empower them into increasing responsibility. As parents we must constantly be checking the temperature, attentive to how they’re handling the responsibilities, and shepherding them. This requires regular involvement in their lives during the ups and downs. It is important to note that change is a community project. And raising children is no different, we can benefit greatly by reaching out to the church for help in this endeavor, gleaning from their wisdom, and struggling together to teach our children in the ways of the Lord.